The Iowa Barnstormers started their United Bowl defending season with a 53-39 win on the road against the Quad City Steamwheelers.
Though, it was a sloppy one.
“At the end of the day, we’ve got to get better,” head coach Dixie Wooten said. “We’re a championship team. We don’t make those types of mistakes in the fourth quarter. You can’t win like that. Fortunately, we won today.”
IFL: Barnstormers escape Quad City, earn 1-0 start on Season
The Barnstormers gave up 45 yards of penalties including a holding call that brought back a 25-yard rush from quarterback Daquan Neal and an unnecessary roughness penalty on a play after Quad City was penalized for the same thing.
That’s part of any football team’s first game, but there were a lot of positives, too.
Iowa’s offense ended each of its first five drives with touchdowns.
“We played a good game on offense, we scored a lot,” Wooten said. “But, at the end of the day we’ve got to get better. We started making a lot of mistakes and to win a championship [we can’t] tolerate that. We’ve got to get a lot better.”
Neal replaced 2018 IFL MVP Drew Powell at the quarterback position for the Barnstormers and for the large part, played about as good as a fan could ask for.
Neal finished the day 10-11 with 154 yards through the air along with 41 rushing yards and six touchdowns combined.
That includes hitting each of his three starting receivers for a touchdown in the first half, alone.
“He’s got his own little swag back there,” 2018 United Bowl MVP receiver Ryan Balentine said. “I appreciate the young guy handling his business today. He handled it like a pro.”
Balentine ended the game with team highs across the board, gaining 85 receiving yards on five receptions for three touchdowns.
Across the field, wideout Connor Hollenbeck made his Barnstormers debut and corralled four catches for 46 yards and a score as well.
“It felt great,” Hollenbeck said. “We’ve been working hard of all of camp to get ready for this game. We knew those plays were going to work and they worked every time.”
Hollenbeck was a big offseason pickup that made noise in Cedar Rapids last season.
He ultimately chose Iowa over some other indoor squads after being an unrestricted free agent this past off-season.
“I’m super excited [to be here], Hollenbeck said. “The whole atmosphere that comes with the Barnstormers, the history and legacy that comes with it, I’m playing for that. I’m playing for all of the fans and the whole city of Des Moines. I’m really proud of it.”
Iowa entered halftime of Sunday’s game with a 26-14 lead after the Quad City offense struck with four seconds remaining.
The Barnstormers had control of the game, but they were being exposed in the secondary on the defensive side of the ball.
“They were hitting us with short stuff, we just had to make some adjustments,” defensive back Tyrell Pearson said.
That’s exactly what the team did.
Under new leadership on that side of the football, defensive coordinator Chuck Miller was able to adjust his squad and find a way to limit the Steamwheelers’ offensive chances.
“They were hitting us with those under routes and those hitches,” Miller said. “We just changed our coverage. We knew [what they were doing]. We just tightened it up a little bit.”
With the amount of turnover in the IFL in the off-season, Iowa saw a lot of rookies making their first starts in the league.
Defensive lineman B.J. Butler said that was part of why the defense improved in the second half.
“Everybody just dialed in and focused up,” Butler said. “The first half went by fast and for a lot of these guys, it’s there first game ever in the IFL. They got a taste of the first half, and in the second half you’ve got to make the adjustments and come to play.”
Iowa started to pull away, but after starting its sixth drive from inside the five yard-line, a mistake on the snap gave Quad City a free touchdown and closed the score to 40-33 late in the third quarter.
The teams would trade scores following that possession, but Iowa got a big boost in momentum after Butler blocked the ensuing extra point on Quad City’s next score.
“I was setting the dude up all night,” Butler said. “I kept on trying to go around and around and beat him. Something happened and I got pissed off, and I’m like, ‘You know what, I’m going to run through this little guy.’”
On the ensuing kickoff, Pearson ran the ball all the way back to the end zone, and made it a two possession game.
That wasn’t the last time he’d be seen, either.
On Quad City’s eventual final drive of the game, Pearson eluded two defenders and eventually chased down Steamwheelers running back Carlos Wiggins, forcing a game-clinching fumble.
“We had to make a play,” Pearson said. “One of us had to make a play on defense. We’re champions for a reason so we have to lock in mentally. One of us had to do it, so I made a play.”
The victory gives Iowa a 1-0 record to start the season heading into next week’s matchup with the Green Bay Blizzard.
It will also mark the unveiling of Iowa’s 2018 United Bowl championship banner.
“I feel like we’re in a good position,” Pearson said. “Starting 1-0 is great, especially coming off of a championship season. It’s always good to bring that momentum in from that first game, and we’re coming back home for the banner drop. Let’s go. It’s going to be crazy.”
|2019 Indoor Football League Standings|
Week 2 Results
Green Bay 53, Nebraska 52
Iowa 53, Quad City 39
Arizona 81, Cedar Rapids 37
Tucson 64, San Diego 44
Week 3 Schedule
Sat. (7:05pm) Green Bay @ Iowa
Sat. (7:05pm) Sioux Falls @ Nebraska
Sat. (7:05pm) San Diego @ Cedar Rapids
Sun. (5:00pm) Bismarck @ Tucson